IMAGE: KENNETH FOSTER
Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice via AP
Kenneth Foster
updated 8/30/2007 1:52:10 PM ET 2007-08-30T17:52:10

Gov. Rick Perry accepted a parole board recommendation Thursday to spare condemned inmate Kenneth Foster, the getaway driver in a 1996 murder who had been scheduled for execution within hours.

The sentence had drawn protests from death penalty opponents because Foster wasn't the actual shooter.

Foster was convicted of murder and sentence to death under a Texas law that makes non-triggermen equally accountable for a crime. Another condemned man was executed under the same statute earlier this year.

"After carefully considering the facts of this case, along with the recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, I believe the right and just decision is to commute Foster's sentence from the death penalty to life imprisonment," Perry said in a statement.

"I am concerned about Texas law that allowed capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously and it is an issue I think the Legislature should examine."

6-1 recommendation
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles had voted 6-1 earlier Thursday to recommend Perry commute the sentence. Perry didn't have to accept the highly unusual recommendation from the board, whose members the governor appoints.

Foster had acknowledged that he and his "knucklehead" friends were up to no good as he drove them around San Antonio in a rental car and robbed at least four people.

"It was wrong," Foster, 30, said recently from death row. "I don't want to downplay that. I was wrong for that. I was too much of a follower. I'm straight up about that."

Their robbery spree, while they were all high on alcohol and marijuana, turned deadly when Foster followed Michael LaHood Jr., and his girlfriend to LaHood's home about 2 a.m. Aug. 15, 1996. One of Foster's passengers, Mauriceo Brown, demanded LaHood's wallet and car keys, then opened fire when 25-year-old couldn't produce them. LaHood was fatally shot through the eye.

Brown and Foster were tried together and convicted of capital murder. Foster was set to die Thursday evening, 13 months after Brown, 31, was strapped to the same death chamber gurney in Huntsville for lethal injection.

Foster's lawyers argue that statements from the other two friends, both now serving life sentences, provide new evidence that supports Foster's claim that he didn't know Brown was going to shoot LaHood.

Brown testified at trial that he thought LaHood had a gun, so the shooting was self-defense, though authorities found no other weapon near the body.

Foster did not testify.

"I thought what (Brown) said was good enough," he later said.

Prosecutor called him 'puppet master'
Mike Ramos, among the prosecutors in the trial, said he found Foster's claims unbelievable.

"When you let somebody out of your car with a loaded handgun, what do you expect?" Ramos said, adding that he was irritated by a publicity effort to spare Foster. Last weekend, a group of Foster supporters picketed outside an Austin church the governor attends.

Ramos said it was clear to him that Foster was "the puppet master pulling all the strings" during the robbery spree.

LaHood's brother Nico LaHood said Wednesday he was frustrated that people were willing to believe only Foster's story.

"I don't know what dynamics are going on that allow us to make the person who is the wrongdoer to become the victim in this case," LaHood said. His brother, he said, was being "lost in the whole thing."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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